CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Lancashire Life today CLICK HERE

How Bury transformed itself into a centre for heritage and the arts

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 March 2018

Looking toward Market Street

Looking toward Market Street


Martin Pilkington reports on a Lancashire town that has confounded the pessimists.

Crowded House salon; Beckie Eyles, Helen Kinsella, Jake Eckersley, Suzanne Collinge and Joanna FabianCrowded House salon; Beckie Eyles, Helen Kinsella, Jake Eckersley, Suzanne Collinge and Joanna Fabian

When the Metrolink trams came to Bury in 1992 cynics suggested it would be neighbouring Manchester’s attractions that would benefit. The former mill town has confounded those expectations, however, thanks in no small part to its continually evolving cultural scene and a spirit of cooperation.

‘Bury has a really vibrant cultural offer now, with the three museums – Bury Arts, The Fusilier, and the East Lancs Railway Transport Museum – and the heritage railway itself,’ says Susan Lord, curator at Bury Arts. ‘And we all work closely together. For example, quite often between April and June we’ll have schoolchildren coming here to handle WWII objects, then they’ll ride on the railway as evacuees.’

The town’s art collection includes works by great names from the past like Turner and Constable, but with the 2014 opening of the Sculpture Centre contemporary art was given greater prominence, something rooted too in the creation of the Irwell Sculpture Trail. ‘There’s an exhibition in the Sculpture Centre running until June to mark the 25th anniversary of the trail,’ she says.

Kate Walker, ELR marketing manager stood on platforms 3/4 at Bury Bolton St StationKate Walker, ELR marketing manager stood on platforms 3/4 at Bury Bolton St Station

Cooperation between the various cultural centres will be demonstrated very clearly this year, as it has been recently with WWI commemorations, via events to celebrate the life of perhaps its most famous daughter, Victoria Wood. A statue of the writer and comedienne by Graham Ibbeson will be unveiled this spring on a site opposite the Arts and Fusilier Museums.

Meanwhile, a neon artwork previously commissioned by the BBC – the word Happy in her handwriting – is being recreated to be hung on the exterior of the Met Arts Centre, signalling a year of Happy events in the town, including at the Met Theatre. On June 2nd a Victoria Wood exhibition opens at the Art Museum.

Over the road at The Fusilier Museum, general manager Garry Smith shares Susan’s enthusiasm for the benefits of partnership. ‘We’re proud of our working relationships with the other centres, it creates a critical mass of activity in the cultural quarter here, where our building has been described as the fulcrum.’

Cath Ashton and Angela Warrington, Bury Tourist Information CentreCath Ashton and Angela Warrington, Bury Tourist Information Centre

There are some fascinating objects on display but the building itself, designed by the same architectural partnership that created Blackpool Tower, is worth more than a glance too, with contemporary additions like the Rose Window by artist Bridget Jones, leading visitors up to the Quartermaster’s Store area. That latter development allows the museum to display an extraordinary 90 per cent of its collection.

The Fusilier Regiment is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its current incarnation this year, with a photographic exhibition to tell the stories of veterans who have served since 1968.

Bury’s Tourist Information Centre is conveniently housed in the same building, with the ELR station Met Theatre, Art Museum and the famous market all a stroll away. ‘The big things that boosted the visitor side originally were the heritage railway and the market,’ says Cath Ashton at the centre. ‘The market gets coach-loads of visitors from all over the country every week, and quite often now they will do a little tour of the other centres before hitting the market. The area has got so much better as a cultural and visitor destination because people do work together well here.’

Curator, Susan Lord at Bury Art Museum  (holding The Allies Bazaar Bury Recipes, 1916 and sat in front of a display of original hand printed WW1 recruitment posters)Curator, Susan Lord at Bury Art Museum (holding The Allies Bazaar Bury Recipes, 1916 and sat in front of a display of original hand printed WW1 recruitment posters)

‘Working together makes it easier to bring parties in, and to help one another out. When the Met went through its major revamp we brought the box office here, and they did shows all over town – the library, the Minden Suite in the Fusilier Museum, even some of the bars and pubs.’ Her colleague Angela Warrington adds: ‘And we work with the railway too, of course.’

It would be impossible to think about Bury’s visitor economy without that railway, established by enthusiasts in 1987. ‘It’s an amazing organisation with just nine paid employees, but some 750 volunteers,’ says marketing manager Kate Walker. ‘We’ve got the museum a short walk from Bolton Road Station, after a massive refurbishment that’s a destination in itself, and the railway, so we’re a great day out even before you take the other museums into account.’

There’s always something new happening at ELR to keep people coming back. Tornado, the steam engine featured in Paddington 2, will be on display at the end of March and, if they can raise the purchase price, ELR will have the loco Wells to bring steam buffs here from far and wide. They may also be able to arrange a return of The Flying Scotsman.

General manager, Garry Smith in the Quartermaster's Store, the Fusilier MuseumGeneral manager, Garry Smith in the Quartermaster's Store, the Fusilier Museum

Bury as an arts centre would have seemed incredible two decades ago. But the town isn’t stopping there, its hospitality renaissance epitomised by the success of the ELR ‘Dining with Distinction’ experiences. These fine food excursions on steam-hauled trains were recently voted the top Greater Manchester restaurant on TripAdvisor. Good food on the railways. There’s no stopping them.

Attracting crowds

Crowded House; David Banks, Darren Jackson and Johanne BanksCrowded House; David Banks, Darren Jackson and Johanne Banks

It’s not only museums and galleries that are drawing Mancunians (and plenty of others) to Bury these days. Take Crowded House, a unique business idea launched two-and-a-half years ago by husband and wife David and Johanne Banks, and head chef Darren Jackson. ‘The three of us worked together on cruise ships, and used to talk about doing this over a few bottles of wine. The building came up, we had our business plan ready, so we did it,’ says Johanne.

Crowded House, on Manchester Road, has a beauty salon, hair stylists, and bar-restaurant so clients can be pampered and enjoy a relaxed meal with friends, or just use one of the amenities.

‘We’re passionate about not putting ourselves in a box,’ she adds, ‘So the restaurant takes no bookings, the dishes are based on the ideas of sharing and grazing, and you can stay as long as you like.’ The formula is working – they’re open seven days a week now, and already employ 45 staff.

More from Out & About

Yesterday, 00:00

Canicross is one of the fastest growing sports and it has arrived in the Lake District. Irene Rothery reports

Read more
Dogs Lake District Walks

Having 10,000 students on the doorstep is helping this West Lancashire town centre to thrive

Read more

In 1972, a hoard of ancient silver coins was discovered in Prestwich. These days, they’re hoping to strike gold with an unbeatable mix of community, creativity and independent shops but for one craftsperson, silver is still the way to go.

Read more
Friday, October 12, 2018

Pendle Hill is one of the most iconic landmarks in Lancashire and you can enjoy the beautiful countryside, spectacular views and fascinating from a number of starting points in the Ribble Valley.

Read more
Pendle Hill Ribble Valley Walks
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Our walks expert John Lenehan plots a scenic course that also provides a little Lancashire history.

Read more

Steps are being taken to bridge the divides that have grown between communities and made Blackburn one of the most segregated towns in the country.

Read more
Monday, October 8, 2018

With the countryside turning stunning shades of red and gold, this is probably the best time to pull on your boots and go for a heavenly hike.

Read more
Lake District Walks Autumn

There is always something surprising in this old Lancashire village which attracts visitors from across the world

Read more
Thursday, October 4, 2018

Many youngsters their age are content to play with their toys, but a Bowness brother and sister are happiest in their walking boots.

Read more
Thursday, September 27, 2018

Britain’s biggest independent flower show attracts huge crowds and the admiration of BBC celebrities

Read more
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

When it was announced The Willow Garden Project in Fleetwood was to be the recipient of BBC North West Garden created for The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Tatton Flower Show, there were cheers all round.

Read more
Friday, September 21, 2018

The first ever National GetOutside Day takes place on Sunday 30 September with the aim of getting 1 million people active outdoors across the UK.

Read more

Meet some of the devilishly successful people who make this glorious Ribble Valley town tick.

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

The site was designated Lancashire’s first ever ‘Local Nature Reserve’ in 1968 and is also designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Local Business Directory

Property Search